According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly one-third of all seniors live by themselves and are aging alone. These “kinless” seniors as reported by The New York Times, represent a growing trend of ‘solo agers’ who are independently living at home, don’t have a spouse or children they can depend upon and lack a safety net if they need support, whether that’s physical, emotional or practical.
This is, as an article in the Washington Post points out, a particularly vulnerable group, one without a family member to watch out for their well-being. In a survey of 500 ‘elder orphans’, for example, nearly 70% of them hadn’t identified a friend or family caregiver who could help them if they had health problems, while 35% didn’t have friends or family who could help them with challenges.
Concerns expressed and experiences shared by people included:
Fear of losing their housing: one-quarter of them
Not having enough money (at least once over the past year) to meet basic needs: 23%
Not having a secure financial future: 31%
In other words, many are woefully unprepared and stressed out over their current situation, as well as over what the future may bring. So, what can solo agers without family support do?
An article in NextAvenue.org is calling for policymakers to focus on creating solutions for older adults, especially solo agers. This could include, as one example, safe and affordable public transportation so that older adults without family support can continue to engage with other people.
According to the American Society on Aging, for people in the solo ager population, it’s especially important to think about legal guardianship issues, or ”someone who will take over in a fiduciary capacity if they are unable to make decisions for themselves. That person may be a relative or a friend or even a professional fiduciary or private guardian. Of course, everyone needs the legal protection of a healthcare directive and an estate plan, but solo agers have a heightened need to have those in place while they are still relatively young and healthy since no adult child will be rushing in from the hinterlands to provide that assistance and guidance.”
The American Bar Association is therefore discussing the question of paid healthcare surrogates for older adults who are single and childless. The Baby Boomer generation, they point out, dropped off their tax information to accountants and used consultants for services. Some pay to have their groceries delivered — and so professional decision-makers may be a natural next step for people without a family caregiver, one that may become more available as the demand increases.
Also, a private Facebook group exists for elder orphans. Here is part of the group’s description: “The group is restricted to individuals over 55 who live without the help of a spouse, partner and children. If you feel you're aging alone, with little support, you belong.”
Other solutions for older people without friends or family to help them can include living in a continuing care retirement community, if they can afford that, or some other form of assisted living arrangement. Another includes “adopting a family” that you trust, giving someone in that family your power of attorney.
Or, as another option, there is aging in place.
Aging in Place
Healthy, independent solo agers can benefit from Kendal at Home’s program. Since opening in 2004, 98% of our members have successfully aged in place without ever needing to go to a nursing home facility. We make aging in place in your home possible — and enjoyable — through a combination of a continuum of care and our care coordination team. Our Care Coordinators work with you to develop a plan that offers support for all stages of life and all levels of care. You’ll receive the safety and security you desire, and you’ll remain the decision-maker. Your team will be your advocate and liaison in helping you execute your plan, ensuring you thrive at home.